TOKYO - Tsukiji, the world's largest and busiest fish market, is set to move 2km south to a new waterfront site that has been embroiled in controversy but will return to its current spot in central Tokyo within five years, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike announced on Tuesday (June 20).
She emphasised the value of the “Tsukiji brand” numerous times during a news conference, and said the imminent move was necessary to redevelop the ageing structure of the 82-year-old market, which is struggling to cope with surging visitor numbers.
“We will retain the traditions and the brand built up by Tsukiji over the decades,” Ms Koike said.
While she said the precise date of the move will only be decided after further discussions with business holders, Japanese media reports have cited May next year as a plausible date.
The announcement puts an end to speculation and confusion over the proposed move, which had been slated for November last year but was put on ice by Ms Koike after routine tests showed groundwater at the new waterfront site at Toyosu was contamintated beyond safety limits.
The site used to house a gas plant.
Confusion over the Tsukiji move is expected to be one of the hot-button topics for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections on July 2.
Ms Koike, a former member of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), will lead her new party Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) to contest the polls.
The governor had on Saturday promised Tsukiji business owners that she would work to ensure Toyosu was safe. She also apologised for all the confusion caused by the delays.
She halted the move after her election as Tokyo Governor in July last year, upon discovering the site was missing a 4.5m-deep layer of fresh soil that experts say is a must to protect the site from toxins.
She launched a probe that soon unearthed a bureaucratic mess that she inherited from her predecessors who had pumped in taxpayers’ money into what was originally meant to be a permanent site at Toyosu.
Groundwater tests at the current Tsukiji site - located near Ginza - have also showed contamination above safety levels, though the metropolitan government has stressed the food is safe because of a layer of concrete covering the ground.
Ms Koike said on Tuesday that after Tsukiji market moves back to its original site, the Toyosu site can be used as a distribution centre given its state-of-the-art facilities and coolant systems, as well as proximity to the Narita and Haneda airports.
Keeping the Toyosu facility functional will also help cover some of the costs of building of the site, which came to 588.4 billion yen (S$7.3 billion) as of February, she said.